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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Better To Reign In Hell (Although Japan Is Better)

Blue Exorcist/Ao No Exorcist/青の祓魔師: The story revolves around Rin Okumura, a teenager who discovers he is the son of Satan born from a human woman and is the inheritor of Satan's powers. When Satan kills his guardian, Rin decides to become an exorcist in order to defeat his father. (Source: Wikipedia)
Oh, Blue Exorcist. Much like the flames that encompass Rin's person every time he taps into his demon powers, you burned so bright for such a short time only to sputter out awkwardly in the end. You, who kept viewers glued to the screen with your quickly paced plotting and cast of characters, ended up going the route of all so-so shonen anime and ended with a 'final showdown' between good and evil that in the end apparently did not account for much.

The Ao No Exorcist show was never boring (which is a feat in itself) and it always stayed entertaining to the very end, but some of the late series plot twists bordered on outright silly. Plus, it had a finale that did not feel like a finale so much as the lead to a second season that seems destined to never come into being. At least we'll always have True Cross Academy, right?

I would say that Blue Exorcist is at its peak during its first nineteen episodes, ending around the time of Kamiki's birthday party. During this time, we are introduced to our core cast, have run through a few mini-arcs and are knee-deep in the main narrative of Rin and Yukio, and have established the various important settings such as True Cross Academy and the various levels of exorcist headquarters at the Vatican.
And it was so good, too. Crazy sibling antics with the Okumura bros! Kamiki being tsundere! Awesome battles between exorcists and colorful demons! Heartbreaking flashbacks to Fujimoto-sensei and Rin and Yukio as kids! Mephisto being, well, Mephisto! I would readily recommend Blue Exorcist based on these episodes, as they make up the bulk of the series and the heart of what makes it so great.
The last five or so episodes, however, aren't terrible but they aren't great. I haven't gotten so far in the manga to make a definite statement, but it feels like this is the point where the anime script writers decided to deviate from manga-ka Kazue Kato's original story, because what goes on in this new arc does not mesh so well with the initial section. And this is from someone who actually enjoyed the Neuhaus/Michelle storyline. Shush, spider people in anime are awesome!
No, it's when the Vatican appoints Yukio as Paladin that things get weird in the series. The entire direction of the school goes off the rails, Yukio starts showing signs of Satans' blood that were never apparent in earlier episodes, and the Okamura sibling relationship goes sour fast. And then the ridiculous plot to use Rin's blood to open a portal to Gehenna starts, and wowzers, that was just maddeningly inane. Entertaining, as I said before, but inane as, err, hell.
Which is a shame because a lot of the action is pretty interesting, especially when Rin and Yukio team up to close the gate, and there's a lot of thoughtful exploration of the Okamura family relationships, both with the sons as well as their relationship to Fujimoto-sensei and the mother they never got to know. Their mother, who is Yuri, daughter of Cardinal Egin, who was possessed by Satan and carried and gave birth to his children, gets a lot of focus in these episodes as well, giving some much-needed back story to the woman who is responsible for the Okamura brothers' very existences.
Except that in the process, they make the Vatican forces look painfully inadequate and manage to defang evil itself, Satan, and turn it into a love sick spirit looking for a better life through Yuri. Let's have all demons and humans live peacefully and in harmony! Except it involves pretty much tearing through Assiah – I mean, Earth – and killing humans. Whoops! I don't think anyone actually thought this plan through to the logical conclusion, whether it be the spirit of Satan or Cardinal Egin.
So, the Blue Exorcist finale is not perfect. The story itself is pretty silly considering everything that came before it. But wow, everything that came before it? Is pretty darn great and worth watching to the end – which doesn't even feel like a finale, due to how many plot lines felt unresolved and how it felt like it was gearing up to start another batch of episodes, only to suddenly stop. There was a one-month time skip in that episode – that alone could have made up several episodes during which they rebuilt the school grounds and we see the fallout from the battle against Gehenna's gate.

Still, as shonen series about demon-possessed teenage boys with flame-spewing swords go, it was very good. Perhaps mercy will smile upon all Ao No Exorcist anime fans and the film will give proper closure to this series, or even herald a second season. Yeah, that's about as likely as Yukio switching to contacts.
You can watched subbed episodes of Blue Exorcist via Crunchyroll streaming. The DVD/Blu-Rays are currently available via Aniplex, and include the Japanese sub and English dub (tho, at least to me, they are mad expensive). The manga is currently being published in English thanks to Viz Media either in paperback or in e-book format.